Successful communications programs of any type have one consistent tool. At the beginning of the program’s development, a team sat down and developed a creative brief.
This person might not have called it a ‘creative brief,’ but the purpose was the same:
- To articulate the program’s objectives
- To outline the problems and opportunities the program will face in the hearts and minds of the intended target audience, and
- To consider the program’s strategic direction
The name changes depending upon where it’s developed. Agencies often call them a strategy brief or client brief. Internal communications departments use slightly more generic names, like strategic plan or planning guide. At MasterCard, we used to call them “OST Plans” (objective + strategy +tactic). Mark, a colleague in Sydney doesn’t have a name for his department’s document per se, but his explanation certainly suggests one: “Our team sits down together and decides what the hell we’re going to do before we waste time and money.
If you don’t use a creative brief, you should.
- Force a clarity of purpose through the articulated definition of objectives.
- Lead to structured thinking and discipline upon the team. (Ask yourself how many ad campaigns run without a brief: why should public relations/communications have any less rigour?)
- Focus the team to articulate the strategic direction, so that all subsequent elements – strategies and tactics – best deliver the umbrella messages to the intended audiences.
- Ensure there’s agreement between the team and its client on the direction of the assignment. (You should not use the last PowerPoint presentation since the program often changes between “presentation” and “implementation.”)
- Lead to better and more effective, measurable outcomes.
- Improve the quality of the ideas produced during the brainstorm.
Yes, there are downsides, but only if some general rules are not followed.
- Don’t assign the job of completing the brief to the lowest ranking person in the team. Writing a brief should be a group activity, started at the earliest possible stage in plan development, and done through discussion, debate and buy-in among the team members and the client.
- Don’t think of a brief as answering boiler-plate questions. It’s not the quality of the questions, it’s the quality of the answers.
- Don’t write a brief and then ignore it. It should be re-visited at key points in the campaign development. Are the strategies and tactics following the original direction? If not, why not?
- Don’t overload the brief with more information than necessary. First and foremost, it should focus on strategy … not the ideas (that’s the purpose of the brainstorm), and not the resources behind the project (these important issues will become important after the brainstorm, when the ideas are honed into realistic tasks.)
I’ve developed a number of briefs for teams and agencies over the years, and below is the most comprehensive list of questions I’ve compiled for your team to consider in creating your own. A few instructions:
- Tailor the questions to your organisation or situation. Don’t use them ‘as is.’
- Formalise the brief into a standard template suited to your company.
- Train everyone how to complete one.
- Set up guidelines on how to use: where is the blank template stored on your shared drive, how and when does someone begin to complete it, determine the system for approving it as the project moves toward completion.
What a Good Creative Brief Should Contain
Company, the ‘owner of the creative brief’
Brand or campaign name
Client team, including names and contact information
Agency team, including names and contact information
Project details: project type, relevant purchase orders, or job codes
What is the specific business outcome this campaign, project or assignment must achieve? (Typical objectives affect sales; usage; awareness; image or reputation; profitability; retention or recruitment of customers or employees; productivity; approvals or finalising deals – such as legislation or regulations; database management and responses; and shareholder value. An outcome might even be to minimise action.)
What is the specific marketing objective? What role should/must communications or other disciplines play to help achieve this business outcome? (A typical objective educates or informs; updates; changes minds, perceptions or behaviours; justifies (a position); challenges a point-of-view; inspires a call to action; makes amends for; generate coverage in traditional, digital or social media.)
What is the marketing or campaign strategy? What is the unified concept or theme that should be reinforced by all marketing disciplines?
Generally, try to limit the number of objectives. Less objectives means a more focused campaign, and less difficulty in measuring against those objectives.
What external problems, issues or debts may impact the campaign objectives?
What communications issues may or will prevent us from achieving the campaign objectives? The issues should only be ones which ‘communications’ can make an impact. Important issues where communications can’t help need to be noted and discussed with the other relevant parties.
What external trends, circumstances, events will influence or impact the campaign objectives?
What assets or drivers can we leverage against the threats?
Typical threats and opportunities include: brand, reputation or legacy; trends, fads or influences; attributes and qualities of the product or service, talent, location, timing, relevancy, usage and application; resources of the organisation, such as capabilities, copyrights and patents, culture, distribution, infrastructure, operations and logistics; partnerships, joint ventures and alliances; unique selling points and differentiation; honors and awards; and exclusivity, value and price.)
Don’t forget to look internally at the client’s organisation: what strengths or weaknesses will influence the campaign?
For each prioritised issue above, what specific strategy will address, minimise, neutralise or eliminate a particular issue? Strategies should directly address the issues. Some issues may have multiple strategies. See my blog entry on defining objectives, strategies and tactics if you need guidelines.
Who is the specific primary audience which must change their attitude, opinion or behaviour so that we will achieve the communications objective and the business result? Audiences should be defined and prioritised through accurate research, by demographics, psychographics, lifestyle choices and values.
What secondary groups of people will influence the primary target audience, both positively and negatively? How might these groups be magnified, neutralised or incentivised?
What traditional and social media will be critical to reach these audiences in a relevant, credible and compelling way?
What is the current perception of the primary target audience?
Why do they believe or behave in the way that they due?
What do we expect them to do – realistically – as a result of a campaign?
What’s the little voice in the back of their heads telling them?What past experiences, events, issues, history, perceptions (right or wrong), or personal attitudes do they have?
What macro influences are shaping public thought (environmental, societal, economic)?
What are outside groups or organizations telling them to believe? (rivals, competitors, neutral parties who can’t pick sides)
What is the single overall message which this campaign must deliver to key audiences?
What is the most relevant or differentiating message that will surprise or engage our audiences to change their minds about us?
Facts What rational points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Rational reasons persuade.)
Feelings What emotional points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Emotional reasons motivate.)
Who or what else is competing for our target audience’s attention with similar or related messages? How will our messages be different to theirs?
What is the most relevant and differentiating idea that will surprise consumers, or challenge their current thinking?
What is the psychological, social or cultural tension between the current perception and the desired perception?
What idea will help us start a relevant and compelling dialogue between us, our consumers, and their key influencers?
Timing, calendars, delivery
Staffing (internal and external)
Materials, resources and skills
For all tactics, how will we measure our success against these objectives?
What aspects do we need to consider at the beginning of the campaign, as it’s impossible to effectively measure a campaign retro-actively.
This is a lot of information, I understand that. So, how long should a creative brief be? There is no finite answer, but they typically are 2-3 pages in length.